Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Loving...out loud.

This verse has been on my heart all morning, and I just posted it on facebook:

"Anyone who sets himself up as "religious" by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world."  James 1:26-27  (The Message)

Must be honest here- I've read the Bible from cover to cover several times...well, except for maybe Revelations, that book just confuses me to no end, even with a stack of commentaries sitting next to me for comfort.  So I know I've read the above verse a few times.  But sadly...or hypocritically, you choose...I would skim it, thinking I was doing my part because we've sponsored a child through World Vision, or given to food banks occasionally.  I knew those piddly acts didn't really add up to the intentional effort specified in James.  But we were doing something so I let myself off the hook. 

Until the Ramsdells became our daughters' pastors and I saw they lived this verse out with their entire lives. 

Heart effort. 

I could talk endlessly about the Ramsdells and the impact they've made on our little family.  I won't do that right now.  But I will happily introduce you to them sometime if you don't already know them, and let them tell you about their passion for the homeless and the loveless, especially orphans. 

Billy used to teach on this verse a lot and he showed our daughters how they can make an impact on the homeless and loveless right now, with their small resources multiplied by heart effort.   

I believe we must teach our children to live a better life story.

What do I mean by that?

Society teaches our children today to live for themselves for the most part, yes?  Get the stuff and you will be happy...fulfilled and have a super awesome life!  Yeah!


How's that working out for us here in America?  

The Bible teaches a different way...a better way. 

To gain your life, you must lose it.  

When we give ourselves...our time, resources, effort, talents and abilities...to the most worthy causes...pouring out hope to the hopeless and love to those who only know pain, fear and unlove...


We are fulfilled.  We write a better life story with our lives, yes?

And how do we teach our children to do the same with their lives?  By modeling giving of ourselves for them to see, of course.  Because we all know children won't always do what we say, but they will do what we do.  This can be a cause for shuttering or for thankfulness, and we, as parents, hold the process in our hands.  

So I finally joined a local LOVE146 task force this morning.  Yes, I waited much too long.  Scold me for that, I deserve it.  For those unfamiliar with this organization, they are a Christ-centered organization committed to the abolishing child trafficking and exploitation.  This cause has burned on my heart since I first heard about it over a year ago. 

The monthly meeting for September is on my birthday.  I could skip it.  But I'm not. I must start giving myself somewhere, sometime. 

I pray my girls find their causes through the Lord's direction and leading, and pour out love in their own unique ways to change lives.  I pray the same for you today too.  

Give yourself.  Love out loud.  Be fulfilled.  



Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I was going to write this post on Sunday.  Glad I waited.  The slight conviction I was feeling then has metastasized into full-blown angst.  Not always a bad thing.

Especially not in this case.

I've hit this subject of forgiveness hard during the past six months.  First was the realization I had stuffed years of pain down deep, until it all burst out my insides back in March.  Sadly, I imagined those bodies floating in the streets of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina...dead bodies swelling in the water and heat...swelling until sometimes they burst.  Death won't stay neatly inside, it will eventually spill out its blackness and disease, yes?

Honest- I didn't have a clue how to forgive, heal, move forward...move at all.  Worse was the barreling down epiphany, right on pain's heels, of my own actions, words, thoughts, and behaviors in response to years of unreleased pain.

We sometimes do awful things when we are hurting, don't we?

Plus, there was a social situation our family encountered at the beginning of this year which needed me to extend forgiveness into also.  Thought I had moved on from it months ago, but a conversation with a dear friend over coffee and a brownie had me spewing anger and ugly, black unforgiveness.  Oh, how I needed God's grace intervention there.

And...just because I personally think God likes to bring about freedom, healing and restoration simultaneously in several areas once we are willing to allow His hand into our messes....

I was reminded on Monday of probably my toughest extension of forgiveness in my entire life.


You see, I had reached levels of forgiveness in my heart in all of these situations, some deeper than others.  Sometimes we feel healed and whole until memories are brought forth, then we feel the pain and shame all over again.

Does this mean I hadn't forgiven?

I believe I had.  But I'd forgiven like this:

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You're done. It doesn't necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare...”  
-Anne Lamont, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.

Sure, I'd stopped fighting back.  Well, except for the angry spewing over brownies.  But the blackness was still in my heart, in varying amounts per circumstance and person, poisoning my insides. 

I had not forgiven like this:

"As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us."
-Psalms 103:12

You are thinking right now, "That's God talking...that's not for me to do."

But Jesus did it for us.

When others hurt us, they are transgressing against us, yes?  Overstepping our personal boundaries, violating us in some way...in tiny annoyances or with gigantic, life will never be the same, offenses.  

Guest speaker pastor on Sunday...forgive me for not recalling his name...reminded us of the parable Jesus told in Matthew, and how it relates to our forgiveness of others:
A Story About Forgiveness
 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, "Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?" 
 Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

 "The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn't pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

"The poor wretch threw himself at the king's feet and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

"The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, 'Pay up. Now!'

"The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' But he wouldn't do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

"The king summoned the man and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn't you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?' The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt."
-Matthew 18:21-35


I know I've been trying to hold others accountable for their ten dollar sin debts to me, in my heart, when Jesus has forgiven my life debt of sin that I can never repay or make right.

Does this mean I forget what they've done to me?  I'm honestly not sure it's humanly possible.  And some transgressions do indeed require cutting someone out of our life, for our own safety or well-being, or that of our loved ones.  So, no, I don't think we ever forget.

But we can forgive.  Release our transgressors from their sin debts owed us.  Gain the perspective of heaven, realizing we are all worthy of death for our sins...our sins against each other and against God.

Sure, it's a process.  I hope it doesn't sound like I am dismissing great and horrible pain perpetrated against you by others.  I am not.  But when we let go...when we choose to forgive and leave the pain and shame in God's very capable hands

We heal.  Can breathe again.  Regain hope and a future.

 I hope you are able to take a step toward forgiving today...I am walking there with you. 

*As I was searching for a picture for this blog, I found the above.  I'm not sure there's a more powerful modern day example of unmerited forgiveness than the response of the Amish community in the aftermath of the school shooting in 2006. Our country demanded hate and retribution, but the Amish poured out love in a way which mystified and challenged us all. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

In which

In which I am thankful my daughter says the thing she does best is worship God.  Not an arrogant boast, but a humble acknowledgment:

 "This is what I was made to do.  To worship."

And so very thankful she has found a group of friends that live this truth, and a church which will let the Youth take over a Sunday morning service so the kids can remind us adults it's all about giving our hearts. 


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Thoughts on Sunday, hearing God, and being weird.

I heard a wise and vulnerable message on Sunday morning about hearing God when He speaks to us.  Larry Hobbs shared his personal journey in hearing God speak to him during one of his toughest times.  As he spoke, I thought about my own times of hearing God "speak" to me.  While Larry voiced his feelings that perhaps we might find him weird for the story he shared...about God speaking to him...my shame burned a little.

You see, I typed out the following personal story several months ago, about a time God spoke clearly to me in my own pain.  But I never posted it.  I chickened out...thought to myself...what are people going to think of me if I share this?  They are going to find me very weird.  Yep, weird was the correct word, alright.

But his courage gave me courage.  So here is my story.  And if you find me weird, I'll try to be okay with that.  Peace.  

February 12, 2012
We sang an old hymn at church this morning, It is Well With My Soul. Many of you know this is my favorite hymn. I loved it as a child and we sang it often at Calvary Tabernacle in Roanoke.  I forgot about it for many years.  But God brought it back to my memory during one of the most difficult times of my life.  It was a turning point for me and I remembered it as we sang this morning:

We were living in Marshall, Virginia and the girls were very young.  Ainsley was less than a year old and suffering from extreme acid reflux.  The condition landed her in the hospital at two weeks old because she would stop breathing every time the acid would bubble up into her throat. It was incredibly painful for her and she cried about 16 hours each day.  If she was awake, she was usually in pain and crying, screaming her little lungs out, actually.  It was very difficult to see my child in such pain everyday and not be able to fix it.

We had been living in the area less than six months when Ron was let go from his job due to the crashing economy.

Further, I had just been informed by my Eye Doctor that I had glaucoma and was already sixty percent blind.  I was told even with treatment I would probably be completely blind in ten years or less. I can't describe the panic I felt at those words.  My visible world became sharp and beautiful and horrible. I stared at my girls' faces terrified I was going to forget them...the shape of their little mouths and the colors in their eyes. 

I was sitting on the floor of the playroom in our little rented house, on the girls' blue and pink IKEA princess rug, holding Ains and trying to comfort her.  I felt the weight of the entire world bearing down to crush me into dust.  She and I were both crying, for our own reasons.  Ron was sitting at our computer a few feet away.  Numb.

I remember thinking, "I can't do this. I have no strength left."

Sometimes we have to get to the end of ourselves before we allow God to step in.  That "end" may be due to our own poor choices or life just beating us until we have nothing left. I also felt very clearly that Satan had thrown down the gauntlet- he had stripped me of my "external" security, the loss of income.  He had attacked our daughter's health, causing great pain and anxiety in our home. If you've ever lived around the constant screams of an infant...unrelenting, for hours at a time...you know how it rips away peace.

But stealing my eyesight? It was an attack on my very purpose.  I am a writer.  I know God created me for this specific "career" purpose. Satan was trying to blot out the very reason I was put on this Earth.

You could say these were all just naturally occurring circumstances and there was nothing spiritual or mystical about them...that life just sucks sometimes. Perhaps. But I believe there is an Enemy of our souls that seeks with all his will and power to destroy all that is good in our lives.  Maybe some of the circumstances were just bad luck.  But I believe the loss of my eyesight was a direct attack.

God said "Enough".

And that's when I heard it, while I was holding my baby girl on the floor and weeping.  I didn't realize I still knew the words to the song.  Maybe I didn't.  But God did.  This is what I heard in my mind and heart, louder than the pain and fears:

"When peace like a river attendeth my way.
when sorrows like sea billows roll...
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say...
It is well, it is well with my soul."

I recognized the song instantly. I can't explain the peace I felt in that moment. It was as though God reached down into my mess and He held me, telling me He could fix all that was broken.   I didn't know how he was going to do it, but I knew I couldn't on my own.  My strength was admirable, and yet useless without God's intervention.

So I gave in and let Him be God. I let the peace come.

God did indeed fix the broken pieces of that day. His fixing was astounding, miraculous as only God can be when we allow Him. His healing power was shown a short week later, when my Eye Doctor stood dumbfounded in the middle of the exam room, staring at his notes and the ceiling...having no idea how this young mom's damaged sight could be nearly perfect six short days after the life sentences of glaucoma and blindness were spoken.

*I know the subject of healing is controversial and I do not have the answers of why some people experience healing and others don't.  I just know I asked, day and night, for six days...my very theologically simplistic prayer:

"God, I believe you can heal.  In Jesus' name, I ask you to heal my eyesight.  Thank you Lord." 

Over and over and over and over. God answered.

Ron got a job offer back in West Palm Beach three months later, and South Florida became home for us again. All the broken pieces of that day in Marshall, Virginia worked out, miraculously.  

I will leave you with the song and the story of its inception.  The writer endured more pain than I have ever known and yet he wrote one of the greatest songs of our faith.  Out of his deep pain, he heard God.  And listened. 


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Morning-After Regrets.

Did anyone else wake today...THE MORNING AFTER...with a twinge of discomfort over  red-and-white bag indulgences yesterday?  Any lingering chicken crumbs stuck on defiant chins that smelled a bit foul at dawn? 

Honest- My heart just about broke in two last night over the chicken debacle.

I sat in a bowling alley parking lot waiting for my girls and their friends with tears dripping down my face, reading all the reactions, debate and hurt from every side of this issue.  Because the truth is, in the millions of opinions voiced over the last week and yesterday, there is a face and a heart behind each one.  Millions of souls...


We all trampled each other yesterday. 

Trying to prove the rightness of our individual opinions.   We had facts and figures on every side of the debate, statistics to shore up our loudly proclaimed STANCES.  Affection for our individual agendas oozed from our facebook posts, pictures and article links. 

But we didn't have love.  Or true respect for one another.  Even if our voices were soft as we detailed our personal viewpoints...as I tried to do yesterday...we still alienated people. If we are guilty of doing this under the guise of defending GOD, then how we stink of religiosity.  I think Jesus would have been on the side of love yesterday.  Sadly, that wasn't one of the options we allowed ourselves, was it? 

"If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

   Love never gives up.
   Love cares more for others than for self.
   Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
   Love doesn't strut,
   Doesn't have a swelled head,
   Doesn't force itself on others,
   Isn't always "me first,"
   Doesn't fly off the handle,
   Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
   Doesn't revel when others grovel,
   Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
   Puts up with anything,
   Trusts God always,
   Always looks for the best,
   Never looks back,
   But keeps going to the end.
 (I Corinthians 13, The Message Version)

I know this post probably isn't going to be very popular.  But this is my heart today...the day after...and I say this with shame and humility and hope:

I need to learn to love like God does.  And yesterday wasn't it.  

Peace, dear readers. 

*For the record, our family did not go to ChicFilA yesterday.  But I still spoke about the issue on facebook and hurt at least one friend in the process.  I am so very sorry for that.